Among the whole procession of worthies whose history the Old Testament records, none stands forth with more dramatic interest and meaning than does the Prophet Elijah. His career comes to a focal point and a climax of significance in the experience on "Horeb, the mount of God," where he had fled from the consuming wrath of Jezebel. Here, on ground consecrated by the older revelation to Moses, Elijah is met by the question from Jehovah, the challenge of Truth, "What doest thou here, Elijah?" To see the significance of this question at this time, we need to see how Elijah came to be there.
This prophet's record is that of a wonderful career. Many of Jesus' miracles have their prototype in his work, and among these was not only the bringing of the dead back to life, but the final triumphant consummation of his own earth-experience when he himself passed hence, not through the gateway of death, but through the opening portals of eternal Life. The event which directly preceded Elijah's flight to Horeb was the memorable one on Mt. Carmel, when, in the presence of assembled Israel, Elijah challenged the prophets of Baal to prove the power of their God by the fire consuming the sacrifice, and gained this manifestation of power from Jehovah, when the worshiper of Baal had entirely failed.
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We need not dwell on the details of this picture as it is given in graphic strokes in the Bible narrative, but we note its result in the awakened and reclaimed conviction of the people and the shout of acknowledgment: "The Lord, he is the God; the Lord, he is the God!" Faintly we may imagine the relief and joy of this stern prophet of Jehovah when, after years of patient waiting in the midst of a people turned back to heathen customs, after years of hiding for his life, he sees this baneful spell broken, and his people turned back again to God.
And now comes Elijah's mistake, — a mistake that came from a wrong notion as to the nature of evil and the way to handle it. Falling on the prophets of Baal with the sword in his own hands, he executes them, — not one is suffered to escape. The explanation of this act is apparent; viz., Elijah had come down to the very plane of thought and action with the error he sought to destroy, and thus he was laid open to the counter-attack which sin always attempts to make on its destroyer. After the signal defeat which these prophets of Baal had suffered and the marvelous demonstration of divine power through Elijah, Baal's influence would have been, for the time being, dead, and his prophets would have been discredited men; Elijah could have walked forth unmolested, and the moral and spiritual influences that he had evoked would have gone on to accomplish their transforming work. Elijah had thus far broken no law, human or divine; but when with bloody hands he becomes an unauthorized executioner, it could be certainly foreknown that Jezebel's message would quickly follow: "So let the gods do to me, and more also, if I make not thy life as the life of one of them by to-morrow about this time." Elijah had to flee for his life; so he rested under the juniper-tree and asked to die; and so it was that he finally stood on Mt. Horeb and met the divine demand: "What doest thou here, Elijah?"
To understand what followed we must recognize the elements which had especially been invoked and involved in Elijah's previous relations and demonstrations. His first introduction to us is when he comes to Ahab with the assurance: "As the Lord God of Israel liveth, before whom I stand, there shall not be dew nor rain these years, but according to my word." Now as Baal was supposed to be especially the god of natural forces and the productive power, this was a direct challenge of the heathen deity's power in what was supposed to be peculiarly his own domain.
Was Elijah causing a famine in this? By no means. What he did was to announce that a famine already existed in the consciousness of king and people; such a famine as another prophet describes later as being a "famine ... of hearing the words of the Lord" (Amos, 8 : II). Elijah's bold utterance simply uncovers the real nature of this condition, and its logical result in the manifestation of the elements. That universal thought does stand in an immediate relation to the elements, a relation that involves in itself a law of cause and effect, is a fact clearly assumed and asserted in the Scriptures. In Jeremiah we read, "But this people hath a revolting and a rebellious heart; they are revolted and gone. Neither say they in their heart, Let us now fear the Lord our God, that giveth rain, both the former and the latter, in his season: he reserveth unto us the appointed weeks of the harvest. Your iniquities have TURNED AWAY these things, and your sins have WITH HOLDEN GOOD THINGS from you." A further and, if possible, clearer statement of how and why evil comes is stated in the following chapter: "Hear, O earth: behold, I will bring evil upon this people, even the FRUIT OF THEIR THOUGHTS, because they have not hearkened unto my words, nor to my law, but rejected it." So, if the prophet precipitated this condition of a drought, his words were the cause of it only as they uncovered the nature of this condition in Israel's thought as a false belief, — a claim that could and would be broken and removed only when the belief in Baal as lord was broken, and the God of Israel was seen as the one source of all power and good.
It thus becomes clear that it was a work in mind which Elijah had wrought. As a symbol of the unseen, the fire that had consumed the sacrifice on Carmel was only the outward type of the fire of divine Love that was to consume the error which had been cherished by this people, and which was now being sacrificed — completely surrendered; and the rain that fell came likewise only as an outward manifestation of the showers of grace that would and did come as soon as the barrier of "sins" which had "withholden good things" was removed from the people's thought.
Now it is obvious that, up to this point, Elijah had been dealing with moral and spiritual forces only. His work had been to turn the confidence of the people back to God, and open their thought once more to receive and to express the spiritual idea. If, following this mighty event on Carmel, Elijah had still trusted to the same moral and spiritual forces which had wrought their mighty work thus far, the people would have been again established in the faith of their fathers, and even Jezebel on the throne would have had no power to harm him. What Elijah did was to make error personal; and in attacking Baal's followers, it is clear that he believed God to be manifested in destructive forces, as well as in those which come to refresh and renew, such as the dew and the rain.
Having thus invoked these destructive mortal forces, with the surging elements of human thought still sweeping through his own consciousness, and filled with a sense of Jehovah as "a man of war," a mighty destroyer of the wicked, Elijah now stands on Mt. Horeb and hears this summons: "What doest thou here, Elijah?" even as to his great progenitor, Adam, had come the call: "Where art thou?" To the implied reproach of the question there seems to be a touch of defiant reproach in the answer, as though Elijah had done his part, and God had not done His: "I have been very jealous for the Lord God of hosts: for the children of Israel have forsaken thy covenant, thrown down thine altars, and slain thy prophets with the sword; and I, even I only, am left: and they seek my life, to take it away."
Now Elijah is bidden to "Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the Lord. And, behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the Lord; but the Lord was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but the Lord was not in the earthquake: and after the earthquake a fire; but the Lord was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice." Here amid solitary heights, with rocks and elements as actors, is presented in mighty, dramatic setting, what in varying degree takes place in all human consciousness, what indeed was then taking place in the consciousness of Elijah and his people; viz., the appearance of the spiritual idea to awaken and transform. Elijah was thus taught in a mighty object-lesson, wherein he saw his own moods and thoughts externalized, what is the nature, what the mode of Truth, and how they differ from the lawless moods and modes of material sense. Our Leader, Mrs. Eddy, has indicated this in the opening lines of "No and Yes," —
"To kindle in all minds a common sentiment of regard for the spiritual idea emanating from the Infinite, is a most needful work; but this must be done gradually, for Truth is as 'the still small voice,' which comes to our recognition only as our natures are changed by its silent influence.
"Small streams are noisy and rush precipitately; and babbling brooks fill the rivers till they rise in floods, demolishing bridges and overwhelming cities. So men, when thrilled by a new idea, are sometimes impatient; and, when public sentiment is aroused, are liable to be borne on by the current of feeling. They should then turn temporarily from the tumult, for the silent cultivation of the true idea and the quiet practice of its virtues. When the noise and stir of contending sentiments cease, and the flames die away on the Mount of Revelation, we can read more clearly the tablets of Truth."
This seems to be the process indicated in the narrative. When human thought awakens to perceive and receive Truth, the new idea arouses tides of human enthusiasm and impetuosity which sweep through the mentality of the individual and of society with all the rushing force of a mighty whirlwind, overturning old, weighty, rocklike human opinions in their way. "But the Lord was not in the wind."
Then as Truth works deeper in thought there are earthquake upheavals, old imbedded convictions are disturbed and displaced; but the upheaval and disturbance, the action and reaction is in the human sense, whose old beliefs are being jostled before they vanish away, and not in the spiritual Truth whose presence and power brings always peace. "And after the wind an earthquake; but the Lord was not in the earthquake."
As Truth, through the divine idea, works still more deeply and effectually, there comes the baptism of fire, the transfusing and transforming of divine Love, fusing the stubborn and refractory elements that even the wind and the earthquake could not reach; burning up the dross that is alloyed with the precious metal, and "melting and purifying even the gold of human character" (Science and Health, P. 565). But it is only to the false human sense, to everything unlike itself, that Love is a consuming fire. In its own nature Love's appearing is with joy and peace. "And after the earthquake a fire; but the Lord was not in the fire."
"And after the fire a still small voice." Now Elijah hears the message, and understands its spirit. Hereafter we find him anointing another prophet, and his career henceforth seems to have been largely that of a teacher of truth. Taking the law no more into his own hands, he abides in the confidence and consciousness of Spirit and spiritual power as all, and so by peaceful methods, with weapons which are "not carnal," he reaches the final triumphant demonstration of life eternal.
The bearing of all this history, its meaning and its application to our own present-day conditions, is not far to seek. It is evident enough to us that the people's infatuated following of Baal was entirely the pursuance of a false belief, the working of a lie. All that was to be destroyed was the belief in this lie. That it was supported by kingly power, that it had an elaborate ritual, a powerful priesthood, and that it carried a mighty influence made it no less a lie. That its rites were seductive and even licentious made it all the more an obvious evil, and yet did not alter its character as a false belief, as essentially nothingness; and to show its nothingness it only needed to be seen as such. This could be done only by revealing and bringing into demonstration the power of Truth. To see evil as anything more than a lie, to make it real or personal, forfeits the ability to estimate it rightly and handle it scientifically.
The old Baal worship was only an attempted mythical explanation of the elements cognized by material sense, an impersonation of certain seeming forces of nature. Baal was supposed to represent the masculine basis of the productive and reproductive forces of nature. Elijah raised his mighty protest that Jehovah, the spiritual deity of Israel, working not materially but spiritually, is the one perfect Principle of being; and by this understanding he wrought his work and gained his reward. Our work is to-day essentially the same. We have to meet conditions that are given different names. Baal worship has given place to a belief in physical force and material law. But the followers of God are called upon to declare anew that all true force is spiritual, the direct power of divine Mind working through spiritual law. This entails an uncovering of the character of the lie by demonstrating the spiritual fact which is the truth. And in this our own safety and success will always be assured as we see God as infinite Spirit, the one source of good, and evil as neither personal nor real.
Elijah's career tells its own story and points its own moral. Once only did this intrepid man of God fly before error, and then it was the inevitable result of his own mistake. Elijah had to learn the lesson that should give him a proper estimate of the nature of evil and a true understanding of God. Entering into the belief that error is personal and is to be personally resisted and destroyed, the prophet stepped down from the vantage-ground of Truth, and on the plane of error's own action and reaction he was reached by its threat, and only by fleeing into the wilderness did he avoid its blow.
Equally mistaking the nature of God, good, he made his Jehovah a man of war, who might lead his people forth to vindictive slaughter. Only when, apart from the wind, the earthquake, the fire, he came to hear and know the "still small voice," did he learn, "through pangs unspeakable, how to divide between sense and Soul" (Science and Health, p. 240), and find that God is Love, terrible to the sin, but infinitely loving to the repentant sinner.
The name Elijah means, My God is Jehovah. Honest, earnest, courageous, and true to every conviction, he wrought his Master's work, he learned by his mistakes, he profited from his failures. Ready to act when the time for action came, his mistakes were only the mistakes of a zeal that outran knowledge, and however much such an one may mistake the divine demand, or fail to divide unerringly between the behest of error and the summons of Truth, it will be written of him finally, that —
Perplexed in faith, but pure in deeds,
At last he beat his music out.
Thus Jehovah, the tribal ruler, the man of war, passes, and Eli-Jah, — My-God-Jehovah, — Comes to mean, My God is Love.
In the New Testament the prophet is given the Greek form of the name, Elias. The significance of it is given in our text-book, thus: "Prophecy; spiritual evidence, opposed to material sense; Christian Science, whereby to discern the spiritual fact of whatever the material senses behold; the basis of immortality" (Science and Health, p. 585).
These elements thus defined are the elements Elijah finally apprehended and radiated in consciousness; these are the things by which the world was and is better for his having lived in it; and these are the spiritual revealings and resources by which he finally gained the full demonstration of life eternal.